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J Hosp Infect. 1997 Sep;37(1):7-17.

Colonization of transplant unit water supplies with Legionella and protozoa: precautions required to reduce the risk of legionellosis.

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North Yorkshire Health Authority, York, UK.

Erratum in

  • J Hosp Infect 1997 Nov;37(3):259.


Organ transplant recipients and other immunosuppressed patients are known to be at increased risk of nosocomial Legionnaires' disease. Although the ecology of Legionella in hospital water storage and distribution systems (including a protozoonotic relationship with free-living protozoa) has been well documented, little is known regarding the quality of water supplied to high-risk units. Hot- and cold-water samples (two first draw and one run to waste for 5 min) were taken from 69 (85%) of the 81 United Kingdom organ transplant units (31 renal, 24 bone marrow, nine cardiopulmonary and five liver transplant units) and cultured for Legionella and protozoa. Legionella spp. were isolated from the water supplies of 38 (55%) units and Legionella pneumophila from 31 (45%). The blue-white fluorescent group of Legionella (Legionella gormanii, Legionella bozemanii and others) was isolated from 18 (26%) units. Free-living protozoa were isolated from 47 units (68%) and genera of the protozoa known to permit the intracellular growth of Legionella (PGIGL), from 40 units (58%). Possible associations between Legionella and the variables Protozoa; PGIGL; water pH; and circulating water temperature (recorded after running to waste for 5 min) were examined by logistic regression analysis. In cold-water supplies, a significant association was found between the isolation of Legionella and PGIGL (P = 0.032; OR = 1.81; 95% CI 1.1-3.1). In hot-water supplies, an inverse association was found between the isolation of Legionella and circulating water temperature (P = 0.034; OR = 1.0719 per degree C; 95% CI 1.0052-1.1432). (We failed to isolate Legionella when the circulating hot water was > 58 degrees C. No other associations were significant. We recommend the active surveillance of water quality in high-risk patient areas, and that transplant units, either with a history of nosocomial Legionnaires' disease, or where active surveillance indicates a persistently high Legionella colony count, take remedial action. The quality of cold water may be improved by provision of a dedicated supply taken directly from the incoming mains; and of hot water by the use of a dedicated calorifier, able to maintain a minimum circulating hot water return temperature of 60 degrees C.

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